SC concerned over delay in deciding mercy petitions

SC concerned over delay in deciding mercy petitions

Expressing concern over delay by the Centre and state governments in deciding mercy pleas of prisoners on death row, the Supreme Court today sought from them the records of all such cases.

A bench of justices G S Singhvi and S J Mukhopadhyay said the home secretaries of all the states would send the records of all cases of mercy pleas to states within three days to the Centre, which would then place the same before it.

The court also made it clear that if records are not sent by the state governments, they would do so "at their own risk."

The bench added there have been cases where mercy pleas were decided after 11 years which is a sufficiently long time.

"From the date mercy petitions reach competent authority, what was done?," the bench asked the Centre, observing that in one case it took 11 years to decide the plea, in other it took eight years.

The court brushed aside the Centre's contention that delay was caused due to repeated petitions filed by condemned prisoners in courts.

"There is no bar in filing repeated petitions," the bench observed.

The court was hearing a petition filed by Punjab terrorist Devender Pal Singh Bhullar who was awarded death penalty for triggering a bomb blast here in September 1993 on Raisina Road outside the Youth Congress office killing nine people.

Bhullar has been pleading that his capital punishment be commuted to life imprisonment as there has been an "inordinate" delay in deciding his mercy petition and he is not mentally sound.

During an earlier hearing, Bhullar's counsel had argued that the delay in dealing with the mercy pleas pending since 2003 amounted to "dehumanising" the convict and subjecting him to "cruelty."

He had said Bhullar's prolonged incarceration awaiting his execution amounted to cruelty and violated his Fundamental Right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution. The Supreme Court had on March 26, 2002, dismissed Bhullar's appeal against the death sentence, awarded by the trial court and endorsed by the Delhi High Court.

He had then filed a review petition which was also dismissed on December 17, 2002. Bhullar then moved a curative petition which too had been rejected by the apex court on March 12, 2003. Bhullar, meanwhile, filed a mercy petition before the President on January 14, 2003.

The President, after a lapse of over eight years, dismissed his mercy plea on May 25 this year. Bhullar is currently undergoing treatment at the Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences (IHBAS) in Shahdara for hypertension, psychiatric illness and suicidal tendencies.

Earlier, in an affidavit in the Supreme Court, the Centre had justified the delay of over eight years in deciding Bhullar's mercy plea and said "processing a mercy petition is purely a Constitutional process which takes time".

It had also said that "delay in disposal of the mercy petition is not a mitigating circumstance for commutation of death sentence and also does not reduce the gravity of the crime."

In yet another affidavit, the Centre had told the court that no time limit can be fixed for disposal of mercy pleas of convicts on death row and the court cannot prescribe a time limit for it.

It had submitted that powers conferred on the President to decide a mercy plea are special powers which cannot be interfered with.

"The powers under Article 72 of the Constitution are special powers overriding all other laws, rules and regulation in force. No time frame can be set up for the President in this regard," the affidavit had said.

"The powers of the President are discretionary which cannot be taken away by any statutory provision and cannot be altered, modified or interfered with in any manner whatsoever by any statutory provision or authority," it had said adding "the court, therefore, cannot prescribe a time limit for disposal of mercy petitions".